Rabbi Saunderson

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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Rabbi Saunderson, by Ian Maclaren, Illustrated by A. S. Boyd
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online atww.wernbtegugorg. Title: Rabbi Saunderson Author: Ian Maclaren Release Date: March 28, 2006 [eBook #18063] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 ***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG SAUNDERSON***
E-text prepared by Al Haines
Rabbi Saunderson
By Ian Maclaren
With Twelve Illustrations by
A. S. Boyd
EBOOK
RABBI
LONDON: HODDER AND STOUGHTON 27 PATERNOSTER ROW
1898
To Mrs. Williamson
OF GLENOGIL WHO HAS INHERITED THE GIFT OF WITTY SPEECH AND HAS LAID IT OUT AT USURY TO THE JOY OF HER FRIENDS AND THE GLADDENING OF LIFE
A SUPRA-LAPSARIAN
KILBOGIE MANSE
Contents
THE RABBI AS CONFESSOR
THE FEAR OF GOD
THE WOUNDS OF A FRIEND
LIGHT AT EVENTIDE
Illustrations
He put Jamie's ecclesiastical history into a state of thorough repair
The farmers carted the new minister's furniture from the nearest railway station
Searching for a lost note
The suddenness of his fall
"Some suitable sum for our brother here who is passing through adversity"
"We shall not meet again in this world"
When Carmichael gave him the cup in the sacrament
"Shall . . . not . . . the . . . Judge . . . of all the earth . . . do . . . right?"
"You have spoken to me like a father: surely that is enough"
Then arose a self-made man
He watched the dispersion of his potatoes with dismay
He signed for her hand, which he kept to the end
A SUPRA-LAPSARIAN
Jeremiah Saunderson had remained in the low estate of a "probationer" for twelve years after he left the Divinity Hall, where he was reported so great a scholar that the Professor of Apologetics spoke to him deprecatingly, and the Professor of Dogmatics openly consulted him on obscure writers. He had wooed twenty-three congregations in vain, from churches in the black country, where the colliers rose in squares of twenty, and went out without ceremony, to suburban places of worship, where the beadle, after due consideration of the sermon, would take up the afternoon notices and ask that they be read at once for purposes of utility, which that unflinching functionary stated to the minister with accuracy and much faithfulness. Vacant congregations desiring a list of candidates, made one exception, and prayed that Jeremiah should not be let loose upon them, till at last it came home to the unfortunate scholar himself that he was an offence and a b -word. He be an to dread the ordeal of ivin his name, and, as is still told,
declared to a household, living in the fat wheatlands and without any imagination, that he was called Magor Missabib. When a stranger makes a statement of this kind to his host with a sad seriousness, no one judges it expedient to offer any remark; but it was skilfully arranged that Missabib's door should be locked from the outside, and one member of the household sat up all night. The sermon next day did not tend to confidence—having seven quotations in unknown tongues—and the attitude of the congregation was one of alert vigilance; but no one gave any outward sign of uneasiness, and six able-bodied men, collected in a pew below the pulpit, knew their duty in an emergency.
Saunderson's election to the Free Church of Kilbogie was therefore an event in the ecclesiastical world, and a consistent tradition in the parish explained its inwardness on certain grounds, complimentary both to the judgment of Kilbogie and the gifts of Mr. Saunderson. On Saturday evening he was removed from the train by the merest accident, and left the railway station in such a maze of meditation that he ignored the road to Kilbogie altogether, although its sign-post was staring him in the face, and continued his way to Drumtochty. It was half-past nine when Jamie Soutar met him on the high road through our glen, still travelling steadily west, and being arrested by his appearance, beguiled him into conversation, till he elicited that Saunderson was minded to reach Kilbogie. For an hour did the wanderer rest in Jamie's kitchen, during which he put Jamie's ecclesiastical history into a state of thorough repair—making seven distinct parallels between the errors that had afflicted the Scottish Church and the early heretical sects,—and then Jamie gave him in charge of a ploughman who was courting in Kilbogie, and was not averse to a journey that seemed to illustrate the double meaning of charity. Jeremiah was handed over to his anxious hosts at a quarter to one in the morning, covered with mud, somewhat fatigued, but in great peace of soul, having settled the place of election in the prophecy of Habakkuk as he came down with his silent companion through Tochty woods.
[Illustration: HE PUT JAMIE'S ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY INTO A STATE OF THOROUGH REPAIR]
Nor was that all he had done. When they came out from the shadow and struck into the parish of Kilbogie—whose fields, now yellow unto harvest, shone in the moonlight —his guide broke silence and enlarged on a plague of field-mice which had quite suddenly appeared, and had sadly devastated the grain of Kilbogie. Saunderson awoke from study and became exceedingly curious, first of all demanding a particular account of the coming of the mice, their multitude, their habits, and their determination. Then he asked many questions about the moral conduct and godliness of the inhabitants of Kilbogie, which his companion, as a native of Drumtochty, painted in gloomy colours, although indicating as became a lover that even in Kilbogie there was a remnant. Next morning the minister rose at daybreak, and was found wandering through the fields in such a state of excitement that he could hardly be induced to look at breakfast. When the "books" were placed before him, he turned promptly to the ten plagues of Egypt, which he expounded in order as preliminary to a full treatment of the visitations of Providence.
"He cowes (beats) a' ye ever saw or heard," the farmer of Mains explained to the elders at the gate. "He gaed tae his room at half twa and wes oot in the fields by four, an' a'm dootin' he never saw his bed. He's lifted abune the body a'thegither, an' can hardly keep himsel awa frae the Hebrew at his breakfast. Ye'll get a sermon the day, or ma name is no Peter Pitillo." Mains also declared his conviction that the invasion of mice would be dealt with after a scriptural and satisfying fashion. The people went in full of expectation, and to this day old people recall Jeremiah Saunderson's trial sermon with lively admiration. Experienced critics were suspicious of candidates who read lengthy chapters from both Testaments and prayed at length for the Houses of
Parliament, for it was justly held that no man would take refuge in such obvious devices for filling up the time unless he was short of sermon material. One unfortunate, indeed, ruined his chances at once by a long petition for those in danger on the sea—availing himself with some eloquence of the sympathetic imagery of the one hundred and seventh Psalm—for this effort was regarded as not only the most barefaced padding, but also as evidence of an almost incredible blindness to circumstances. "Did he think  Kilbogie wes a fishing-village?" Mains inquired of the elders afterwards, with pointed sarcasm. Kilbogie was not indifferent to a well-ordered prayer—although its palate was coarser in the appreciation of felicitous terms and allusions than that of Drumtochty —and would have been scandalised if the Queen had been omitted; but it was by the sermon the young man must stand or fall, and Kilbogie despised a man who postponed the ordeal. Saunderson gave double pledges of capacity and fulness before he opened his mouth in the sermon, for he read no Scripture at all that day, and had only one prayer, which was mainly a statement of the Divine Decrees and a careful confession of the sins of Kilbogie; and then, having given out his text from the prophecy of Joel, he reverently closed the Bible and placed it on the seat behind him. His own reason for this proceeding was a desire for absolute security in enforcing his subject, and a painful remembrance of the disturbance in a south country church when he landed a Bible—with clasps—on the head of the precentor in the heat of a discourse defending the rejection of Esau. Our best and simplest actions—and Jeremiah was as simple as a babe—can be misconstrued, and the only dissentient from Saunderson's election insisted that the Bible had been deposited on the floor, and asserted that the object of this profanity was to give the preacher a higher standing in the pulpit. This malignant reading of circumstances might have wrought mischief—for Saunderson's gaunt figure did seem to grow in the pulpit —had it not been for the bold line of defence taken up by Mains. "Gin he wanted tae stand high, wes it no tae preach the word? an' gin he wanted a soond foundation for his feet, what better could he get than the twa Testaments? Answer me that." It was seen at once that no one could answer that, and the captious objector never quite recovered his position in the parish; while it is not the least of Kilbogie's boasting, in which the Auld Kirk will even join against Drumtochty, that they have a minister who not only does not read his sermons and does not need to quote his texts, but carries the whole Bible in at least three languages in his head, and once, as a proof thereof, preached with it below his feet. Much was to be looked for from such a man; but even Mains, whetted by intercourse with Saunderson, was astonished at the sermon. It was a happy beginning to draw a parallel between the locusts of Joel and the mice of Kilbogie, and gave the preacher an opportunity of describing the appearance, habits, and destruction of the locusts, which he did solely from Holy Scripture, translating various passages afresh, and combining lights with marvellous ingenuity. This brief preface of half an hour, which was merely a stimulant for the Kilbogie appetite, led up to a thorough examination of physical judgments, during which both Bible and Church history were laid under liberal contribution. At this point the minister halted, and complimented the congregation on the attention they had given to the facts of the case, which were his first head, and suggested that before approaching the doctrine of visitations they might refresh themselves with a Psalm. The congregation were visibly impressed, and many made up their minds while singing
"That man hath perfect blessedness";
and while others thought it due to themselves to suspend judgment till they had tasted the doctrine, they afterwards confessed their full confidence. It goes without saying that he was immediately beyond the reach of the ordinary people on the second head, and even veterans in theology panted after him in vain, so that one of the elders, nodding assent to an exposure of the Manichaean heresy, suddenly blushed as one who had played the hypocrite. Some professed to have noticed a doctrine that had not been touched upon, but they never could give it a name, and it excited just admiration that a preacher, starting from a plague of mice, should have made a way by strictly scientific methods into the secret places of theology. Saunderson allowed his hearers a brief rest after the second head, and cheered them with the assurance that what was still before them would be easy to follow. It was the application of all that had gone before to the life of Kilbogie, and the preacher proceeded to convict the parish under each of the ten commandments—with the plague of mice ever in reserve to silence excuses—till the delighted congregation could have risen in a body and taken Saunderson by the hand for his fearlessness and faithfulness. Perhaps the extent and thoroughness of this monumental sermon can be best estimated by the fact that Claypots, father of the present tenant, who always timed his rest to fifty minutes exactly, thus overseeing both the introduction and application of the sermon, had a double portion, and even a series of supplementary dozes, till at last he sat upright through sheer satiety. It may also be offered as evidence that the reserve of peppermint held by mothers for their bairns was pooled, doles being furtively passed across pews to conspicuously needy families, and yet the last had gone before Saunderson finished. Mains reported to the congregational meeting that the minister had been quiet for the rest of the day, but had offered to say something about Habakkuk to any evening gathering, and had cleared up at family worship some obscure points in the morning discourse. He also informed the neighbours that he had driven his guest all the way to Muirtown, and put him in an Edinburgh carriage with his own hands, since it had emerged that Saunderson, through absence of mind, had made his down journey by the triangular route of Dundee. It was quite impossible for Kilbogie to conceal their pride in electing such a miracle of learning, and their bearing in Muirtown was distinctly changed; but indeed they did not boast vainly about Jeremiah Saunderson, for his career was throughout on the level of that monumental sermon. When the Presbytery in the gaiety of their heart examined Saunderson to ascertain whether he was fully equipped for the work of the ministry, he professed the whole Old Testament in Hebrew, and MacWheep of Pitscowrie, who always asked the candidate to read the twenty-third Psalm, was beguiled by Jeremiah into the Book of Job, and reduced to the necessity of asking questions by indicating verbs with his finger. His Greek examination led to an argument between Jeremiah and Dr. Dowbiggin on the use of the aorist, from which the minister-elect of Kilbogie came out an easy first; and his sermons were heard to within measurable distance of the second head by an exact quorum of the exhausted court, who were kept by the clerk sitting at the door, and preventing MacWheep escaping. His position in the court was assured from the beginning, and fulfilled the function of an Encyclopaedia, with occasional amazing results, as when information was asked about some Eastern sect for whose necessities the Presbytery were asked to collect, and to whose warm piety affecting allusion was made, and Jeremiah showed clearly, with the reporters present, that the Cappadocians were guilty of a heresy beside which Morisonianism was an unsullied whiteness. His work as examiner-in-general for the court was a merciful failure, and encouraged the students of the district to return to their district court, who, on the mere rumour of him, had transferred themselves in a body to a Highland Presbytery, where the standard question in Philosophy used to be, "How many horns has a dilemma, and distinguish the one from the other." No man knew what the minister of Kilbo ie mi ht not ask—the student was onl erfectl certain that it would
be beyond his knowledge; but as Saunderson always gave the answer himself in the end, and imputed it to the student, anxiety was reduced to a minimum. Saunderson, indeed, was in the custom of passing all candidates and reporting them as marvels of erudition, whose only fault was a becoming modesty—which, however, had not concealed from his keen eye hidden treasures of learning. Beyond this sphere the good man's services were not used by a body of shrewd ecclesiastics, as the inordinate length of an ordination sermon had ruined a dinner prepared for the court by "one of our intelligent and large-hearted laymen," and it is still pleasantly told how Saunderson was invited to a congregational soirée—an ancient meeting, where the people ate oranges, and the speaker rallied the minister on being still unmarried—and discoursed, as a carefully chosen subject, on the Jewish feasts,—with illustrations from the Talmud,—till some one burst a paper-bag and allowed the feelings of the people to escape. When this history was passed round Muirtown Market, Kilbogie thought still more highly of their minister, and indicated their opinion of the other parish in severely theological language. Standing at his full height he might have been six feet, but, with much poring over books and meditation, he had descended some two inches. His hair was long, not because he made any conscious claim to genius, but because he forgot to get it cut, and, with his flowing, untrimmed beard, was now quite grey. Within his clothes he was the merest skeleton, being so thin that his shoulder-blades stood out in sharp outline, and his hands were almost transparent. The redeeming feature in Saunderson was his eyes, which were large and eloquent, of a trustful, wistful hazel, the beautiful eyes of a dumb animal. Whether he was expounding doctrines charged with despair of humanity, or exalting, in rare moments, the riches of a Divine love in which he did not expect to share, or humbly beseeching his brethren to give him information on some point in scholarship no one knew anything about except himself, or stroking the hair of some little child sitting upon his knee, those eyes were ever simple, honest, and most pathetic. Young ministers coming to the Presbytery full of self-conceit and new views were arrested by their light shining through the glasses, and came in a year or two to have a profound regard for Saunderson, curiously compounded of amusement at his ways, which for strangeness were quite beyond imagination, admiration for his knowledge, which was amazing for its accuracy and comprehensiveness, respect for his honesty, which feared no conclusion, however repellent to flesh and blood, but chiefly of love for the unaffected and shining goodness of a man in whose virgin soul neither self nor this world had any part. For years the youngsters of the Presbytery knew not how to address the minister of Kilbogie, since any one who had dared to call him Saunderson, as they said "Carmichael," and even "MacWheep," though he was elderly, would have been deposed, without delay, from the ministry—so much reverence at least was in the lads —and "Mister" attached to this personality would be like a silk hat on the head of an Eastern sage. Jenkins of Pitrodie always considered that he was inspired when he one day called Saunderson "Rabbi," and unto the day of his death Kilbogie was so called. He made protest against the title as being forbidden in the Gospels, but the lads insisted that it must be understood in the sense of scholar, whereupon Saunderson disowned it on the ground of his slender attainments. The lads saw the force of this objection, and admitted that the honourable word belonged by rights to MacWheep, who was a "gude body," but it was their fancy to assign it to Saunderson—whereat Saunderson yielded, only exacting a pledge that he should never be so called in public, lest all concerned be condemned for foolishness. When it was announced that the University of Edinburgh had resolved to confer the degree of D.D. on him for his distinguished learning and great services to theological scholarship, Saunderson, who was delighted when Dowbiggin of Muirtown got the honour for being an ecclesiastic, would have refused it for himself had not his boys gone out in a body and compelled him to accept. They also purchased a Doctor's gown and hood, and invested him with them in the name of Kilbo ie two da s before the ca in . One of them saw that he was dul brou ht to the
                Tolbooth Kirk, where the capping ceremonial in those days took place. Another sent a list of Saunderson's articles to British and foreign theological and philological reviews, which filled half a column of theCaledonian, and drew forth a complimentary article from that exceedingly able and caustic paper, whose editor lost all his hair through sympathetic emotion the morning of the Disruption, and ever afterwards pointed out the faults of the Free Kirk with much frankness. The fame of Rabbi Saunderson was so spread abroad that a great cheer went up as he came in with the other Doctors elect, in which he cordially joined, considering it to be intended for his neighbour, a successful West-End clergyman, the author of a Life of Dorcas and other pleasing booklets. For some time after his boys said "Doctor" in every third sentence, and then grew weary of a too common title, and fell back on "Rabbi," by which he was known until the day of his death, and which is now engraved on his tombstone.
Saunderson's reputation for unfathomable learning and saintly simplicity was built up out of many incidents, and grew with the lapse of years to a solitary height in the big strath, so that no man would have dared to smile had the Free Kirk minister of Kilbogie appeared in Muirtown in his shirt-sleeves, and Kilbogie would only have been a trifle more conceited. Truly he was an amazing man, and, now that he is dead and gone, the last of his race, I wish some man of his profession had written his life, for the doctrine he taught and the way he lived will not be believed by the new generation. The arrival of his goods was more than many sermons to Kilbogie, and I had it from Mains' own lips. It was the kindly fashion of those days that the farmers carted the new minister's furniture from the nearest railway station, and as the railway to Kildrummie was not yet open, they had to go to Stormont Station on the north line; and a pleasant procession they made passing through Pitscowrie, ten carts in their best array, and drivers with a semi-festive air. Mr. Saunderson was at the station, having reached it, by some miracle, without mistake, and was in a condition of abject nervousness about the handling and conveyance of his belongings.
[Illustration: THE FARMERS CARTED THE NEW MINISTER'S FURNITURE FROM THE NEAREST RAILWAY STATION]
"You will be careful—exceeding careful," he implored; "if one of the boxes were allowed to descend hurriedly to the ground, the result to what is within would be disastrous. I am much afraid that the weight is considerable, but I am ready to assist"; and he got ready.
"Dinna pit yirsel intae a feery-farry (commotion)"—but Mains was distinctly pleased to see a little touch of worldliness, just enough to keep the new minister in touch with humanity. "It'll be queer stuff oor lads canna lift, an' a'll gie ye a warranty that the'll no be a cup o' the cheeny broken"; and then Saunderson conducted his congregation to the siding.
"Dod, man," remarked Mains to the station-master, examining a truck with eight boxes; "the manse 'ill no want for dishes at ony rate. But let's start on the furniture; whar hae ye got the rest o' the plenishing?
"Naething mair? havers, man, ye dinna mean tae say they pack beds an' tables in boxes; a' doot there's a truck missin'." Then Mains went over where the minister was fidgeting beside his possessions.
"No, no," said Saunderson, when the situation was put before him, "it's all here. I counted the boxes, and I packed every box myself. That top one contains the fathers —deal gently with it; and the Reformation divines are just below it. Books are easily
injured, and they feel it. I do believe there is a certain life in them, and … and … they don't like being ill-used"; and Jeremiah looked wistfully at the ploughmen. "Div ye mean tae say," as soon as Mains had recovered, "that ye've brocht naethin' for the manse but bukes, naither bed nor bedding? Keep's a'," as the situation grew upon him, "whar are ye tae sleep, and what are ye tae sit on? An' div ye never eat? This croons a';" and Mains gazed at his new minister as one who supposed that he had taken Jeremiah's measure and had failed utterly. "Mea culpa—it's … my blame," and Saunderson was evidently humbled at this public exposure of his incapacity; "some slight furnishing will be expedient, even necessary, and I have a plan for book-shelves in my head; it is ingenious and convenient, and if there is a worker in wood …" "Come awa' tae the dog-cart, sir," said Mains, realizing that even Kilbogie did not know what a singular gift they had obtained, and that discussion on such sublunary matters as pots and pans was useless, not to say profane. So eight carts got a box each; one, Jeremiah's ancient kist of moderate dimensions; and the tenth—that none might be left unrecognised—a hand-bag that had been on the twelve years' probation with its master. The story grew as it passed westwards, and when it reached us we were given to understand that the Free Kirk minister of Kilbogie had come to his parish with his clothing in a paper parcel and twenty-four packing-cases filled with books, in as many languages—half of them dating from the introduction of printing, and fastened by silver clasps—and that if Drumtochty seriously desired to hear an intellectual sermon at a time, we must take our way through Tochty woods. Mrs. Pitillo took the minister into her hands, and compelled him to accompany her to Muirtown, where she had him at her will for some time, so that she equipped the kitchen (fully), a dining-room (fairly), a spare bedroom (amply), Mr. Saunderson's own bedroom (miserably), and secured a table and two chairs for the study. This success turned her head. Full of motherly forethought, and having a keen remembrance that probationers always retired in the afternoon at Mains to think over the evening's address, and left an impress of the human form on the bed when they came down to tea, Mrs. Pitillo suggested that a sofa would be an admirable addition to the study. As soon as this piece of furniture, of a size suitable for his six feet, was pointed out to the minister, he took fright, and became quite unmanageable. He would not have such an article in his study on any account, partly because it would only feed a tendency to sloth—which, he explained, was one of his besetting sins—and partly because it would curtail the space available for books, which, he indicated, were the proper furniture of any room, but chiefly of a study. So great was his alarm, that he repented of too early concessions about the other rooms, and explained to Mrs. Pitillo that every inch of space must be rigidly kept for the overflow from the study, which he expected—if he were spared —would reach the garrets. Several times on their way back to Kilbogie, Saunderson looked wistfully at Mrs. Pitillo, and once opened his mouth as if to speak, from which she gathered that he was grateful for her kindness, but dared not yield any further to the luxuries of the flesh. What this worthy woman endured in securing a succession of reliable house-keepers for Mr. Saunderson and over-seeing the interior of that remarkable home she was never able to explain to her own satisfaction, though she made many honest efforts, and one of her last intelligible utterances was a lamentable prophecy of the final estate of the Free Church manse of Kilbogie. Mr. Saunderson himself seemed at times to have some vague idea of her painful services, and once mentioned her name to Carmichael of Drumtochty in feeling terms. There had been some delay in providing for the bodily
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